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Published: November 19, 2021 | Updated: November 20, 2021

Challenges past, present and future as leading lights take part in our second biz round table

The six participants: Warren Munson (seated left) and Matt Fretten. Standing (left to right) Chris Palmer, Simon Mewett, Declan Sewell and Joshua Simons. Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

It had all the makings of a lively and thought-provoking meeting of minds – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Six of Dorset’s leading business lights coming together for a round table discussion.

Providing a unique insight into the challenges – past, present and future – faced by their businesses in a range of sectors from hospitality and accountancy to IT, tech and legal.

Oh, and also a handy business tip to throw into the mix as well.

This was our second Biz Round Table, in association with Frettens Solicitors and Inspire.

The guests this time:

  • Matt Fretten, Managing Partner, Frettens Solicitors
  • Simon Mewett, Founder and Managing Partner, TECHNEDs Investment LLP
  • Warren Munson, Founder, Inspire Professional Services and Evolve Members
  • Chris Palmer, Managing Director, AnyTech Solutions UK and Ping Pong Limited
  • Declan Sewell, Managing Director, Decorum Vending
  • Joshua Simons, Co-Founder, Aviary Hospitality including Chicken & Blues and Flamingo

As before, the location was Evolve Members’ impressive co-working hub at the Old St Peter’s School, Ashley Cross, Poole, pictured right.

Here, then, is a flavour as the debate continued, without pause, for two hours.

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Matt Fretten

  • Frettens Solicitors grew during the pandemic. Not back to normal yet.
  • Still running hard with a big pipeline of work.
  • Looking to increase annual turnover by around 30 per cent over the next few years.
  • Location is becoming less important. 95 per cent of Frettens’ work is now done remotely. However, expanding in Ringwood from the firm’s Christchurch base has opened up a whole new geographic area, outside of the BCP conurbation.
  • Quote: “The older I get the more interested I am in developing and giving opportunities to the next generation of leaders in our business.”
  • Quote: “The next 9-12 months are going to be as choppy as hell. It has all the makings of a perfect storm. Brave businesses will potentially be able to grow market share.”
  • Matt’s top tip: Be a caring leader and look after your staff. Many have had it hard for a long time.

Simon Mewett

  • Feels lucky to be in tech during this time.
  • One of TECHNED’s businesses – ITSB – has grown from £400k to £12m in four years.
  • Important to have option schemes in place to retain the superstars.
  • Location is basically irrelevant. Talent/recruitment is the driver.
  • Talent in the tech sector tends to be younger.
  • Quote: “They [younger employees] see the world differently and want to work from home. The office is not important.”
  • Quote: “It’s important to be agile and avoid change exhaustion.”
  • Simon’s top tip: Realise the effect you’re having on others as a leader.

Warren Munson

  • Pandemic allowed an ‘unprecedented’ look at the business after 15 years of growth.
  • Decision made that Inspire should be visible and support the community during the pandemic, emerging stronger and leaner.
  • The firm is not looking to open other offices. Intention has always been to create a ‘centre of excellence’ in one location and travel to clients.
  • Opportunity to grow with a ‘field of dreams’ model. Build the expertise and resource and clients will come.
  • Change management and internal comms will be important future considerations.
  • Quote: “The opportunities are there – you just need to find good people.”
  • Quote: “There is pent-up demand but a lot of uncertainty. People and supply disruption will continue and dent confidence.”
  • Warren’s top tip: Focus, passion and belief.

Chris Palmer

  • At one point his business saw between 38 and 42 per cent growth in profit due to a huge need for computers during the pandemic. Grew office space by three times.
  • Pandemic was an enabler but growth was artificial. Profits are now returning to normal.
  • Important not to turn the back on end-users – there are millions.
  • Need to maintain presence in large conurbations but have clients internationally.
  • Quote: “More and more my job as Managing Director is not only to sell but to educate during uncertainty.”
  • Quote: “It’s now an employee’s market. I have to sell my business to them.”
  • Chris’ top tip: Surround yourself with clever and positive people.

Declan Sewell

  • Business had significant private equity investment just two months before pandemic (January 2020).
  • Made decision to double down to maintain high service levels and run at a loss while others battened down the hatches.
  • Footfall at railway stations fell to six per cent, now back to 70 per cent. Just four people used Leeds Central on Boxing Day 2020.
  • Seized opportunities in pandemic. Went from crisps and Pepsi to the lead provider of PPE for Network Rail.
  • Invested heavily in telemetry, eliminating the human element.
  • Just under 1,000 sites now with 2,000 planned by end of 2022.
  • Planning to launch two ventures and employ 100 new staff in the next 12 months.
  • Quote: “We played the long game and it’s now paying off.”
  • Quote: “I’m not an economist but we’re in a good place with people coming out of the cities.”
  • Declan’s top tip: Try and enjoy the wins.

Joshua Simons

  • Chicken & Blues (C&B) delivery infrastructure already in place as the business had worked with Deliveroo for six years. C&B was able to survive and, in some ways, create opportunities from the pandemic.
  • Restaurant group is approaching £5m sales and employs 100+ people. Aim to grow both brands over the next 2-3 years with further site openings.
  • Chicken & Blues was proven to be pandemic-proof. Doing 2k+ deliveries per week during lockdown.
  • Location important but not city/town centres, where historically businesses want to be. Instead, secondary suburban high streets with lower rents but strong residential population density.
  • Quote: “I expect a tough ride in the next 12 months with costs for staff, rates, power and goods all rising.” 
  • Quote: “Margins are being squeezed everywhere. Lots of empty units should be available and we may get a once in a generation chance to pick up new sites.” 
  • Joshua’s top tip: Adopt the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen – continuous, marginal improvements add up to substantial incremental change over time. 

++ Our thanks to Evolve Members for hosting the Round Table and Lewis Barr, Marketing & Commercial Director, Frettens Solicitors, and Rachel Hadfield, Marketing and Events Executive, Inspire, for organising the event. And a special thank you to all six participants in our second Biz Round Table, in association with Frettens Solicitors and Inspire.